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Plea skirts terror link for former lawmaker

By Heather Hollingsworth
Associated Press / July 8, 2010

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A former congressman accused of accepting stolen funds to lobby on behalf of a charity with alleged ties to terrorism pleaded guilty yesterday to two charges including obstruction of justice, but prosecutors said more serious charges would probably be dropped.

Mark Deli Siljander, a Republican from Michigan who served in Congress from 1981 until 1987 and as a UN delegate for a year, pleaded guilty in federal court in Kansas City to obstruction and acting as an unregistered foreign agent.

Charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering will probably be dismissed under the terms of Siljander’s plea deal, said Don Ledford, a spokesman for the US attorney’s office of the Western District of Missouri.

Abdel Azim El-Siddig, a codefendant who was a part-time fund-raiser for the Islamic American Relief Agency, admitted to conspiring to hire Siljander to lobby for the group’s removal from a Senate Finance Committee list of charities suspected of having terrorist ties.

Prosecutors said that Siljander received $75,000 from the charity to push for its removal from the list and that the group paid him with funds obtained from the US Agency for International Development for work it was supposed to have done in Africa but did not.

Prosecutors said Siljander lied to the FBI about being hired to lobby for the charity and told investigators the money was a donation to help him write a book about Islam and Christianity.

US Attorney Beth Phillips said in a news release that Siljander engaged in illegal lobbying for the charity, then used his own charities to hide the payments for that lobbying.

The charges are part of a case against the charity, which was based in Columbia, Mo., before it was designated in 2004 by the Treasury Department as a suspected fund-raiser for terrorists.

Shereef Akeel of Troy, Mich., who represented the organization in a 2004 attempt to unfreeze its funds, maintained that the charity has no ties to terrorism.

“The money should go to the people in need, and that’s the bottom line,’’ Akeel said. “In our zealous efforts to combat terrorism we have undermined our war against famine.’’

Siljander did not comment after the hearing. When the judge asked him if he acknowledged what the prosecution was alleging was true, he answered “yes.’’

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